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Illustration of person jumping over the hands of stopwatch (Daniel Horowitz)

We live our lives at human speed, we experience and interact with the world on a human time scale. But this hour, we put ourselves through the paces, peek inside a microsecond, and master the fastest thing in the universe.


Mike Beller, Joshua Foer, Seth Horowitz, Eric Hunsader, John Mainstone, Thomas Peterffy, Larry Tabb, Lene Vestergaard Hau, Carl Zimmer and Andrew Zolli

Never Quite Now

We kick things off with one of the longest-running experiments in the world. As Joshua Foer explains, the Pitch Drop Experiment is so slow, you can watch it for hours (check out the live cam) and not detect the slightest movement. But that doesn't mean ...

Comments [37]

Million Dollar Microsecond

Picture the scrum of the stock exchange -- the flurry of buying and selling, the split-second decisions that make and break fortunes. Then take out all the humans and accelerate everything until you literally can't keep up. Jad visits the inhumanly fast world of modern-day, high-speed trading with NPR's

Comments [26]

Master of the Universe

As faster and faster technology schools us with its super speed, we’re left looking for something, anything, we can beat. Enter Lene Vestergaard Hau, who has found a way to harness the one thing we all thought -- by its very nature -- was unbeatable.

Comments [30]

Comments [76]

Seth from Maryland

Things will happen, and we won't have any idea why. I realized this was a consequence of our current practices years ago, but I hadn't realized exactly how to explain my meaning until I heard your brilliant segment on algorithmic high speed trading.

We now have not only high speed algorithmic trading, but also high speed algorithmic culture. Not only can high speed algorithms competing with each other lead to a flash crash which, as you so beautifully put it, can happen in an instant but take years to understand, we now have high speed algorithms competing with each other to show us ads to pursuade us.

These marketing algorithms learn, they are self improving every second, and they are competing for our attention and our will.

I suspect this has already led to a massive cultural event which will take us a long time to understand. Where ever you turn it seems the people who best understand politics don't understand how Donald Trump became the president of the United States. Experts, laymen, people in his campaign, people who voted for him and even the people who paid for his campaign don't seem to know how it happened. Some algorithmic marketers holding their trade secrets closely probably know though.

It's public knowledge that a lot of algorithmic marketing was paid for by the Russian government specifically to effect the election and American culture.

The results of the brexit vote seem to show there are a large number of people who will see poll numbers and change their vote in favor of the likely loser, not out of a desire for them to win but rather as a form of protest against the system itself. Perhaps a human or machine simply noticed this pattern and targeted pessimistic predictions at such voters, reenforcing this negative feedback loop. Maybe there are other trends necessary to understanding the results.

What will happen when this system gets overloaded in the same way as the flash crash? Will we all be insane? Will we all agree on nothing? Will we have a choice besides disconnecting or violence?

Feb. 04 2018 01:23 PM
Jeff Hegemeyer from St. Louis

Death Star? It sounds like we now have the technology to slow light, capture it, aggregate it and release it as a pulse. Fascinating!! I hope we use this technology for good.

Feb. 03 2018 05:11 PM
Bill Burns from LI NY

High speed stock trading across the Atlantic dates back to 1866, when the first successful telegraph connection was made by undersea cable. Here's a contemporary report by Francis Perry, Superintendent of the Anglo-American Cable Office at Liverpool at the time.

"The Anglo-American Telegraph Company, by its cables between Valentia [Ireland] and Heart’s Content [Newfoundland], makes a great point in transmitting the quick-time messages, or “stocks” as they are termed; the wires are brought into the Stock Exchange at New York, while the Company’s office in Throgmorton Street, London, is within a few steps of the Stock Exchange in that city. The land lines are placed alongside the cable instruments at Valentia, Heart’s Content, and North Sydney, so that while the messages are being transcribed by one operator they are forwarded a stage on their journey by another, with the minimum delay at each station. By this method it is a thing of frequent occurrence for a broker in New York to telegraph an order to his client in London and receive a reply that the business has been completed, all within the space of five minutes, thus compassing the journey of two thousand five hundred miles in each direction, or five thousand miles in all, within that short space of time."

Dec. 13 2016 02:22 PM
skip webb from Seattle

they mention a Link to beethoven's fifth being played at death metal speed. I can't find it can anyone help?

Dec. 11 2016 09:57 PM
Ayoola Oseni from Chicago

I was such when I heard of the lady's ability to trap light and even, finding its configurations. This is, has she thought of spirits, a human soul, all those creatures moving with the speed of light, even faster that she could use this application for them? God is A Spirit!

Just thinking.

Dec. 11 2016 09:16 PM
Dorothy Mundy from Dallas TX

So the stock market is supposed to allocate capital. The most important question is what good do this high speed trades where someone earns a quarter of a penny buying and then selling a stock? It isn't real is it? It doesn't create anything useful. And it must take money away from actual goods production. What is it good for?

Dec. 11 2016 02:05 PM
Alan Spiewak from North Carolina

This was a really interesting episode. I hate cleaning the bathroom, and listening to you on a Saturday afternoon made it all OK!

After the first segment, I guessed that you were going to go into an explanation of optical illusions. The other segments were great, and also you might someday want to explore this concept (thought a visual topic may not be ideal for radio):

Basically, many of the optical illusions we've known for hundreds of years are a by-product of the way our visual system compensates for neural delay. Neuroscientists' studies have been applied to various illusions about converging lines and misperceived line lengths.

The hypothesis says we are engaging the same neural tricks that let us know where our hand can catch a ball when it's thrown to us. Because visual interpretation takes finite time, we've learned to see where things are going to be, not where they are. Some optical illusions happen when our brains apply these adjustments to situations where they don't belong. It's complicated. Here's one simple-ish explanation that I found:

Dec. 10 2016 02:48 PM
Alan Spiewak from North Carolina

This was a really interesting episode. I hate cleaning the bathroom, and listening to you on a Saturday afternoon made it all OK!

After the first segment, I guessed that you were going to go into an explanation of optical illusions. The other segments were great, and also you might someday want to explore this concept (thought a visual topic may not be ideal for radio):

Basically, many of the optical illusions we've known for hundreds of years are a by-product of the way our visual system compensates for neural delay. Neuroscientists' studies have been applied to various illusions about converging lines and misperceived line lengths.

The hypothesis says we are engaging the same neural tricks that let us know where our hand can catch a ball when it's thrown to us. Because visual interpretation takes finite time, we've learned to see where things are going to be, not where they are. Some optical illusions happen when our brains apply these adjustments to situations where they don't belong. It's complicated. Here's one simple-ish explanation that I found:

Dec. 10 2016 02:43 PM
Jessa from USA

Who else's ears perked up at the first two chords of Lux Aurumque at roughly 48 minutes? So appropriate!

Feb. 01 2016 08:43 PM
Derrick C. from United States

Great show folks!! I was driving home last night (16 Nov 14) and was amazed at how speed is accounted for in matters ranging from neurology to stock trading algorithms to being able to manipulate the speed of light. I could only wish my science high school science teachers had made science more meaningful than mere basic / boring memory drills of photosynthesis and routine lab tasks. There was really no "meaningful discovery" to much extent. The idea of comparing things that we know (email message speeds) to how fast our neural impulses react is just fascinating! I mean, the notion that the startle circuit by-passing the brain to make us jump gives pause to conventional wisdom about shell-shock and the idea of being in shock for a moment, unable to react with logic. Since the brain is bypassed, logic (for that moment anyway) cannot be, thus training cannot prepare a soldier to much extent. This is meaningful science! You guys sparked a real interest in neurology for me in a single podcast!

Anyway, regarding the manipulation of light / speed in Dr. Vestergaard Hau's experiment, if she demonstrated that light / speed can be "put on hold and transferred", then does this concept have an promise for teleportation at all? Granted, this involves breaking down matter, scattering it and then reassembling it, but still... Also, since all that we know and do has already occurred by the time that we react to it (there is no "present tense"), can time itself (or at least how we react or interact with it) be slowed to the point that we can be ahead of time?


Nov. 17 2014 05:21 PM
Wayne Damron from Fresno, California

The sound experiment that bypasses the mind and triggers a response directly to the body was a failure for two reasons: first, you told us it was coming and secondly, I wasn't a loud enough or sharp enough sound to shock or scare.
But, I experienced this same thing when I was taking "sitting lessons" at the local Budist Church. WE were sitting there trying to meditate, when the Monk (behind our backs) hit the wooden railing with a rugby bat that produced a sharp crack that went clear through me before I could jump. After it happened, I thought I should jump but it was to late. It illustrated the state of mind resulting from the meditation as well as the lag in time of response of the mind.

Nov. 15 2014 08:10 PM
Leslie from California

So, after listening about the NYC stock exchanges, what happens to the Internet when different speeds are promoted and bought by the highest 'bidders'? (non-net-neutrality)

Do we have crashes and black-outs that will never be explained? 'Winners' and 'Losers'?

Might this happen when I'm trying to download my bank statement, or reprogram my medical device, or just when I send grandma a pic of her grand kids?

Nov. 15 2014 04:59 PM
Elina from Sweden

Question :)

So does this mean that you could see a measurable difference in pain reaction between a person with reaaaallly long legs that hurts a toe or some other distal part of the body, compared to a shorter person? (in regards to the traveling speed of our neurons)

Apr. 30 2014 08:28 AM
Sean Tobin

"Rory E. from Kingston Canada" is exactly right. Light is not being slowed at all. Radio Lab has most definitely not shed any light on this subject!

Jan. 01 2014 02:42 PM
Mariana Frandsen from Montreal

It's sad Professor John Mainstone didn't get to see the pitch drop. That was a great show, thanks for sharing.

Aug. 28 2013 01:06 PM
Troyboy...again.. from Albany, NY

The drop that was captured on video today occurred at Trinity College in Ireland, not at the University of Queensland in Australia (which was featured in the podcast.) Seems there is more than one experiment. Who knew.

Australia got scooped by those Buggers in Ireland!

Jul. 18 2013 09:31 PM
Troyboy from Albany, NY

So I listened to the podcast yesterday, and today I googled "pitch drop". Turns out it did. Earlier today. I missed it. Had to watch the video!

Fantastic episode.

Jul. 18 2013 08:57 PM
James from York, PA

So if you can store light in a bottle... Can't you make a light saver??

Jul. 16 2013 11:31 AM
Pasha...again... from Olympia

Got it:
The song at ~26:00 is "Ruckzuck" by Kraftwerk, which was one of the theme songs to the PBS show Newton's Apple.

Jun. 21 2013 01:02 AM
Pasha from Olympia, WA

TO THE FOLKS TRYING TO RECOGNIZE THE SONG AT THE ~26:00 mark: I BELIEVE it was the theme to Newton's Apple on PBS, but I'm not sure, I haven't been able to find that version of the theme on YouTube. Wish someone could confirm this :-)

Jun. 19 2013 06:25 PM
Dave Gerhart from Long Beach, CA

After hearing this program, I wrote a piece called Pitch Drop for Triangles and Electronic. Please check it out and let me know what you think:

Thanks for the great podcast!

May. 23 2013 05:06 PM
John from North Carolina

Most unfortunate that you did not mention this very recent work on the amount of time it takes the brain to accumulate visual information sufficient to lead to an accurate motor output.

Stanford TR, Shankar S, Massoglia DP, Costello MG, Salinas E. (2010) Perceptual decision making in less than 30 milliseconds. Nat Neurosci. 2010 Mar;13(3):379-85. doi: 10.1038/nn.2485. Epub 2010 Jan 24.

May. 08 2013 03:38 PM
Beth from Wichita ks

Questions from a non-scientist here... So the photons in the linear beam begin to slow down the moment they hit the they start to pile up like traffic, becoming more concentrated with photons and energy before/during its passage thru? Is there a limit to the amount the beam whose edges are contained by the cold and won't allow stray photons to escape, can handle before the photons slowly push/drill the beam across the space and the stored energy resulting from the pileup might act like a cannon firing the photons out of the other end of the sodium with enough energy to resume its normal speed? I feel like Penny from The Big Bang Theory here....

May. 08 2013 01:26 PM
Stan from Seattle

I wonder, is it possible that we are looking at those starts millions of light years away through clouds of really cold atoms? That would suddenly put them at arm's length...

May. 07 2013 09:21 PM
Brian from Indianapolis, IN

The story Million Dollar Microsecond was great. It is amzing what "lengths" business will go or remove to make money.

May. 06 2013 01:40 PM
Anthony from Boulder, CO


May. 05 2013 12:42 AM
Kan from Frisco,tx

OMG,storing light

Apr. 30 2013 09:55 PM
Rory E. from Kingston Canada

Hey quill. Its not the light in the medium being slowed its the rate at which the energy propagates that is slowed as it is absorbed and re-emitted by the atoms in the medium. In between atoms the photons travel at good-old light in a vacuum speeds. Its the variation in abortion/emittion speed and how often this happens that effects the rate of energy transfer.

Apr. 27 2013 08:03 PM
frost from Spokane Wa

It took me .02 seconds to think of this:
Now a days you must diversify... and have a D Wave One.

Apr. 20 2013 07:04 PM
quill from NYC!

Here's what I don't get. When the light is slowed in the cloud, when it pops out on the other side and resumes 186,000mps, where does its velocity come from???

Mar. 29 2013 02:49 PM

Josh, it's Eric Whitacre's Lux Aurumque:

I'm not sure if it was in a movie, but Whitacre used it in his "virtual choir" experiment.

Mar. 11 2013 12:30 PM

That angelic sound at 49:50 sounds like it's from a movie, but I'm not sure which.. Anyone familiar? It's not long enough for me to shazam but I believe I've heard it before... Wish I knew!

Mar. 06 2013 05:09 PM

The last one woah. How does light speed back up after it exits the atom cloud? Wow.

Feb. 25 2013 12:20 PM
Sean from Canada

Dear Radiolab,

PLEASE name your podcast mp3s with the date in YYYY-MM-DD format so that they sort chronologically!

Feb. 22 2013 11:36 AM
John H from Houston

The cool story about slowing down light reminds me of the science fiction story "Light of Other Days" by Bob Shaw.

Feb. 20 2013 09:44 PM
Dan H from Red Bank, NJ

Jad missed the chance at making a great joke when interviewing Mike Beller. Jad should have asked: "So what it is like when your teen-age daughter misses her curfew by a few milliseconds? Is she -- like -- grounded for being SOOO late?"

Feb. 20 2013 07:19 PM
Ron Rosenthal from California

Of course there is a way to limit high-frequency trading and the problems it can cause. A tiny tax on each trade will nullify the fractions of a penny that are made on each trade. Isn't it worth it to stop this valueless activity?

Feb. 14 2013 05:31 PM

The fascinating segment on slowing down light reminds me of the Alan Moore short story The Unbearableness of Being Light which won an Eisner years ago. In it the boy genius Jack B. Quick is thinking about the phenomenon of light and concludes that photons must be drunk. And of course they are moving at the speed of light, which is much too fast for Queerwater Creek! Together with the village's police officer, Jack arrests the photons. They are convicted and sentenced to move just at 30 mph from now on.

This leads to exactly the sorts of scenarios Jad and Robert imagine with their cycling faster than light idea. People arrive at their destinations long before they can be seen to do so, multiple images of things get stacked up, large areas of town are turned into lightless voids. Check it out, it's a very quick and amusing read. First published in Moore's Tomorrow Stories.

Feb. 14 2013 12:42 AM
Dave Tirado from New Jersey

Relax guys, I remembered the theme music. It was from Newtons Apple. IN fact I even found a link for it on Youtube:

Feb. 13 2013 10:14 PM
Don Hannah from Australia

As a follow on from your first segment about the time lag in your brain as information shoots around. Benjamin Libets book "Mind Time" talks about how you brain lies to your mind about that time lag so that you always feel as though you are in the present, even though you are living in the past.

Feb. 13 2013 05:25 PM
Sean King from UK

Does Lene's sodium pool heat up as she fires light into it ?

Feb. 13 2013 04:56 PM
Bret from Lincoln, NE

I am racking my brain to remember where I've heard the music around 26:25! I see I'm not the only one. Could you let us know the track name, or help me figure out which 80s kids show associated with it? It had to be something on PBS... 3-2-1 Contact, or Square One, or something. Aaahhh! I can't place it...

Feb. 13 2013 03:18 PM
Mike Fun

well, starts at 43:34

Feb. 13 2013 11:58 AM
Mike Fun

That's the instrumental version of Raymond Scott's "lightworks" at 44:20.

Feb. 13 2013 11:52 AM
Logan from Detroit

Lol did you hear the Busta Ryhmes instrumental at 20:30?

Good episode :)

Feb. 12 2013 12:04 PM

Constructive criticism time, team Radiolab: everybody loves your music choices, so you should be publishing a track list along with each episode.

Feb. 12 2013 09:01 AM
Peter Karas from Ontario

This is driving me crazy - what's the name of the song at the end of the Kraft segment, at 26:57 or so.....
It was on a kids TV show in the eighties, (played during the credits maybe) - it's so familiar!

Also, great show - can't wait to hear it every week!

Feb. 12 2013 08:33 AM
Mike from San Francisco

I am in agony trying to figure out the name of the music in the background of the section about the algorithms buying Kraft at 22:53 (in the full episode).

Shazam can't find it, I will donate 5 bucks in the name of the person who can ID it for me.

Feb. 12 2013 02:36 AM
John from Colorado

Wonderful, fantastic show! One question, though: with reference to a comment made at 36:57 (correct me if I'm wrong please), isn't 10 microseconds one hundred times faster than a millisecond instead of ten times faster as was stated in the show? I just want to make I'm getting my orders of magnitude prefixes correct.

Thanks for this, and all of the other wonderful shows!

Feb. 11 2013 10:12 PM
Christopher Dillon from Brooklyn

Quick question. If light as the constant has all of its energy directed toward motion through space (traveling at the maximum speed possible in theory) and therefore none of its energy directed toward movement through the fourth dimension of time...what happens to those photons when their motion through space stops? Do they begin moving forward in the fourth dimension of time? Do they age?

Feb. 11 2013 01:43 PM
Giovanni from NY NY

This episode BLEW ME AWAY!!

Now, my knowledge is extremely limited, and my capacity to grasp all these things debatable, but I thought the speed of light was a constant with fundamental significance to Relativity. So how does it affect that? And if you can slow down light and capture it, then the obvious question is: can you fling it and make it go faster?

Feb. 11 2013 12:35 PM

What is the name of the accordion track that begins at 33:56, and who is the musician? I want to hear the entire track so badly and I cannot get Shazam to recognize it!

Feb. 11 2013 12:12 AM
Jose from Miami, Fl

Great inspiration..! Like we say in spanish Maravilloso..!!!

Feb. 09 2013 10:41 AM
Simon from Poland

Absolutely fantastic podcast, definitely one of my favourites.

Feb. 08 2013 06:38 PM
Mike K from Connecticut

I enjoyed this podcast very much, but please tell me your tongue was firmly in your cheek when you spoke about capturing the light surrounding President Obama for future generations.

Feb. 08 2013 11:47 AM
kk from just woke up

awesome, AWESOME!
i throe laughing

Feb. 08 2013 12:59 AM
Nate Pierce from Tucson

Trapping light... doesn't that violate the laws of thermodynamics?

Feb. 07 2013 10:18 PM
karip from Grand Rapids, MI

I love the part where Lena says, "that's right, I am a curious lady."

Feb. 07 2013 09:02 PM
Mark Boyd from Bay Village Ohio

That being said, I agree with other posters - this was an AMAZING episode! I actually don't have any episodes I don't like - just ones that are better than others. I actually felt kinda guilty after I listened to it because I haven't donated in a while!

Everyone, whip out your wallets QUICK!

When I fantasize about winning the lottery (which I never play), I imagine giving millions of dollars to Radiolab. Could not even fathom what they could do with virtually unlimited resources.

I'm going to be a high school teacher someday, and I can't wait to use Radiolab for discussions in class!

Feb. 07 2013 08:52 PM
Mark Boyd from Bay Village, Ohio

Surprised no one brought up the idea of future quantum entangled "radios" which would make cabling between the stock exchanges obsolete!

Also, I think that missing from the discussion of being "in the moment" is the question of who exactly are you when you are "in the moment" or, rather, who is it that can be or not be "in the moment" - as if there's some kind of "true" moment outside of us from which we're disconnected.

Feb. 07 2013 08:47 PM
Fergus from Scotland

I fell in love with the outtro music to the high-speed trading segment in the middle. (42:30 to 43:30)
Does anybody recognise it, or can you provide a track listing?

Feb. 07 2013 04:19 PM

The download through the iTunes app came through okay, but the 'cast itself is glitched. It cuts around, repeats itself, etc. throughout. No problems with other 'casts on my iPhone.

Feb. 07 2013 04:17 PM

Given that Lena can store light and turn it on and off, does that mean she has created an entirely sustainable light source that could replace light bulbs and the need for electricity for light? How bright and far reaching is this light source? Of because it is frozen, can it not glow outside of the cloud?

Also, what else can these clouds replicate? Can they also replicate matter? Could you put a leaf, for example, into the cloud, let it drift out, and then "turn on" the leaf like an after image? It honestly reminds me of photography. I want to see it in person..!

Feb. 07 2013 03:03 PM
Derrik from West Chicago, Illinois

I hhave so many questions about the light in the last ten minutes! Like how much light could be stored, and if light carries information like images. like if you captured like that relected off an object??

Feb. 07 2013 12:27 PM

I wonder if Lene's research could lead to ACTUAL LIGHT SABERS! CMON, THINK ABOUT IT! :-)

Feb. 07 2013 09:41 AM
Jim Gonzales

I really liked this episode. I felt you guys were in a lull there for a bit.

Feb. 06 2013 02:37 PM

Hi John,

Lene got her sodium atoms down to around a billionth of a degree above absolute zero.


Feb. 06 2013 01:46 PM

Hey everybody, sorry about the downloading slowness last night -- we're looking into what might have caused it. In the meantime, everything seems to be working okay now on our end. If you're still having trouble, could you shoot us an email at to let us know? The more info you can give us, the better:
* Are you having trouble downloading from our site, or through iTunes or our mobile app?
* If you're on our site, what browser (and version) are you using?
* If you're using our app, are you connected to wifi?

Feb. 06 2013 01:34 PM
Ryan Morrow from Boise, ID

Has anyone ever heard of float therapy?

This is the attempt to eliminate senses to give you the sensation that you are floating and all that you are concentrating on is your thoughts. To me, it is the closest you can be to "being in the moment." Thoughts?

Feb. 06 2013 01:30 PM
christopher from Los Angeles

Haha, came here to make the same comment as everyone else. "Speed" is not so much.

Feb. 06 2013 01:19 PM
John from St. Louis

If cold is the lack of movement within atoms, how close is this process to absolute zero?

Feb. 06 2013 12:44 PM
Associate from Amsterdam

The podcast on 'Speed' is DLing at an incredibly slow pace. Oh, the irony:)

Feb. 06 2013 01:12 AM
Mike from Dallas

DL from website and android app not working fellas.

Feb. 06 2013 12:21 AM

Keep the podcasts coming guys!! Love em nothing better than radiolab! radio now adays is a joke! Wish there were more shows out there like NPR n u guys!

Greetings from Miami Florida!!

Feb. 05 2013 11:48 PM

Having downloading troubles as well. DLing now but it's v...e.....r....y s......l.......o.........w

Feb. 05 2013 11:10 PM
Mark LaPierre from Internet

Hey Dudes/Dudets,

Your Speed .mp3 file does not download. Do you think you can fix that?

Feb. 05 2013 09:58 PM

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